Less than two weeks before the start of school in Williamson County and long after the Williamson County School district released its reopening plan, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee released the state's recommendations for reopening schools this year on Tuesday, asking districts to allow parents to choose from virtual or in-person options.
“Providing parents a choice in their children’s education is incredibly important,” Lee said. “In-person learning is the medically sound, preferred option. Our state is doing everything we can to work with local school districts and ensure that in-person learning is made available in a way that protects the health and safety of our students and educators, and this plan helps us accomplish that goal.”
Tennessee Commissioner of Health Lisa Piercey shared that leading health organizations have emphasized the importance of in-person learning.
“The department of health has worked with department of education to establish a protocol to keep school buildings open safely and cause minimal disruption when positive cases occur,” she said.
The state's instructions state that anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 must isolate themselves for 10 days from the onset of their symptoms or positive test result in the case of asymptomatic carriers. Additionally, patients should no longer have a fever and should feel better for 24 hours before coming out of isolation.
The state also calls for anyone who has been within six feet of someone who has COVID-19 for 10 minutes or more to quarantine themselves at home for two weeks regardless of a doctor's note or negative COVID-19 test.
Additionally, the state will provide free face masks for "any school stakeholder," thermometers for every school, face shields for staff members, disinfecting kits for teachers, and other personal protective equipment for school nurses.
For families and staff engaging in virtual school options, the state will also provide various resources. For school staff, professional development training is available through local universities, and for students choosing online options for school, the state will provide free resources to address early literacy; math and English/language arts; creative thinking, design and career exploration; and a start-of-year checkpoint test.
“Tennessee is prioritizing health and safety of our school communities,” said Tennessee Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn. “Ensuring schools, teachers, families, and students have the critical resources and supports they need to start the new school year strong is paramount, and I am thankful to Governor Lee for continuing to support education in Tennessee as schools reopen across the state.”
Later on Tuesday, WCS Superintendent Jason Golden assured families that the district will continue dialogue with local and state health authorities throughout the pandemic.
"Our Continuous Learning Plan, as referenced today by Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, has been approved by the state department of education," Golden said. "We have been working on our plans for the 2020-21 school year for the past few months and have vetted those plans as our best hope to sustainably provide our students the maximum possible direct teacher instruction through the school year.
"We are encouraged by what we’ve seen locally over the past few days with active case numbers, and we look forward to our community working together these next few weeks to continue that trend so that our having all students on campus early in the school year is a reality."